The footbridge has become different things to different people.
The bridge located in the heart of Nairobi that was built to link the University of Nairobi and the city centre has attained new meaning for beggars, hawkers, muggers, and even prostitutes.
To the hawkers, it is a place to sell their wares, beggars find compassion, and muggers get their prey. To those in search of illicit intimacy, the bridge provides cover when darkness falls.
It is on this bridge along Muindi Mbingu Street and connecting to Moi Avenue that Joseph Gachie earns his living. Gachie, a resident of Muthurwa market, has been reporting at the bridge every morning since he was involved in an accident about a year ago. He explains that after the accident, his leg was fractured and he had no money for surgery.
He arrives daily at 8am and departs by 4pm after eight hours of work. His mission is to beg. He narrates that he chose the place because it is an ideal location to meet a variety of people who can be of aid, mainly because some students are sympathetic and can easily contribute to his medical appeal as he has to fend for himself since his family abandoned him after the incident that left him jobless.
Homeless children have made the footbridge their home. Under the footbridge, bedding and clothes are scattered, an indication that there are inhabitants around. During the day, they beg from pedestrians and shelter from harsh weather, especially during rainy and cold conditions.
Sharon, an engineering student from the University of Nairobi, recalls using the footbridge at around 10pm. She was speaking on the phone on her way to town to board a matatu when her phone was snatched by an unknown person.
She realised that it is risky to use the footbridge at night. She says women have been seen parading themselves along the bridge, offering sex in exchange for money.
Parking is a big issue in Nairobi, especially around the central business district, and one has to pay high parking fees. There is ample parking under the footbridge. Another advantage is that one does not have to go far to get a parking space. It is also convenient for outdoor advertisement, with posters spread all over the bridge.
Crossing the road without using the footbridge takes approximately 10 to 15 minutes as one has to wait for the road to be clear, whereas using the footbridge is merely a five-minute walk.
During the rainy season, hawkers are spotted selling umbrellas, raincoats, and shower caps, which are basic necessities for such weather.
Shoes and clothes too have found a ready market at the bridge as students are known for their good sense and love for fashion. Hawkers make a good income as this is fast-moving merchandise for that specific population.